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A View from the Altar / Grievous wolves and what to do about them
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Grievous wolves and what to do about them

For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock.  Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.  Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears.  (Acts 20:29-31)

Witnesses exiting

This text is part of Paul’s farewell to the elders of the church of Ephesus.  The context includes the revelation that he would never see them again (v38), and that lets us gauge the seriousness of his address.  Consider it something like the talk he would have given from his deathbed.

WolfThe wolves were already there, of course, just waiting on the right timing.  They couldn’t begin slaying the flock as long as the apostle was there, not because Paul had such a ferocious demeanor (2 Cor 10:10), but for two entirely different reasons.  First, Paul had seen the risen Lord (1 Cor 15:8), so the early church’s most controversial claim had his support as a living eye witness.  There were other eye witnesses, but as the years drew on, their numbers dwindled.  When the last of the original witnesses was gone, the church would no longer be able to produce live testimony and would have to rely on the written word.  Likewise Peter said, “I will be careful to ensure that you always have a reminder of these things after my departure.  For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty.”  (2 Pet 1:15-16)

Second, Paul had the authority and supernatural power of an apostle of the church.  This office was also about to pass into history.  No longer would the early Christians be able to receive doctrine directly from an inspired man or settle their controversies by appealing to the authority of men personally appointed by the Lord.  Again, they would be cast upon the authority of the written record for their doctrine and order.

Wolves and weasels

The wolf population has not decreased since the time of the apostles.  They had a great window of opportunity after the death of the apostles, and they made the most of it.  But it was not their last opportunity.  Our present era gives the wolves an opening not unlike the days immediately following the passing of the apostles.  The age in which the principles of the Reformation had a sort of social ascendancy are gone.  The Reformation gave Western men the idea of a document, the Bible, which formed the inviolable foundation of law.  This germ of an idea in turn gave us the notion of a Constitution which would form the basis for a government.  No surprise at what’s happening now that Western man is discontented with his restrictions (Psa 2:2-3).  As the church has gone squishy on the authority of the Bible, the larger civilization has gone even squishier on the notion of confining the government within the bounds of a Constitution.

Every civilization without exception is based upon some sort of religion.  Therefore, the civilization will never be any better than the religion it is based on.

More to my point for this week’s Bible study, many churches are now just the breeding ground for wolves who improvise their teachings to suit the moment and impose them on congregations too ill-taught to challenge what they hear.  Rock star ministers draw away disciples after themselves, cultivating a media-intensive aura around themselves.  Men like Kenneth Copeland and Benny Hinn hop from city to city aboard private jets offering their false teachings to Christians who should know better, but don’t.  It’s the second oldest profession, but morally a step lower than the first.

But you don’t have to look for rich and famous crackpots like Copeland and Hinn to find wolves drawing away disciples after themselves.  There are numberless local guys setting up their own private religions in the name of Christ and keeping just enough of a following to maintain a decent salary.  Hey, it’s living!

And there’s a lot of this routine, mundane stuff where preachers study the market to figure out what sort of doctrine would get a following, then preach that.  And in an odd, roundabout way, the material they concoct can be as devilish as anything drafted up by Anton LaVey, because Satan exploits the hankerings of man to work out his long term purposes.  And so the man who simply makes merchandise of the saints (2 Pet 2:3), even on the local, Mom-and-Pop level, is as much the worker of darkness as the Emcee of the local Wiccan coven.

Take up your weapon

The solution to this whole problem is to rethink what the apostles gave us in the first place, and why.  As they prepared for their own passing, what did they do?  They produced no buildings, no monuments, and conquered no territories.  Not one of them appointed his son as successor, a highly unusual thing in itself.  They built up no endowments of wealth, possessed no land, minted no coins, struck no medals, commissioned no paintings, put up no statues or images.

What they produced was a body of writing, mostly short letters and narrative accounts, which were contained the church’s foundational body of belief.  This collection of writings is known to us today as the New Testament.  It cannot be over-emphasized that the New Testament is the Sword of the Spirit placed in the hand of the church for her use in waging war in the spiritual realms.  This is what we use, not the buildings, monuments, inherited titles, endowments, and all the rest of the stuff people strive so diligently for.

God’s word, says Paul, is inspired (2 Tim 3:16), meaning it is God-breathed.  In the ancient world, the “breath” was considered to hold the essence of life.  Paul used the idiom of the day to express the notion that the word of God carries the life of God in it.  The New Testament not just a set of rules and instructions and snippets of history, but as the Hebrew writer said, it’s “living and active.” (Heb 4:12, NASB)

This is the thing God has given us for the purpose of helping the church withstand times such as these.  And they are confusing times.  Many local churches are, to speak frankly, in a mess.  They lack sound teaching, are morally chaotic, often are head over heels in debt, hemorrhaging members, and far too many are reacting to their situation by aping the manners of the Secular Man in a pathetic attempt to attract new tithers.  Better answer: We need to reboot this whole deal and break out the basic manual for a triumphant church, the New Testament

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